Thursday, December 13, 2012

On Censorship and Critical Thinking: Harry Potter's Uncle Vernon Is Both Right and Wrong

Katie's home sick on the couch watching the first Harry Potter movie.  After the scene where Uncle Vernon says, "There's no such thing as magic," Katie informed me that he is both right and wrong.

Be still my ambiguous heart.

"Why is he both right and wrong?" I asked.

"Because he's right in real life.  There is no magic.  Magicians just use tricks.  But he's wrong in the movie because there is magic in the movie because it came from someone's imagination."

Let's hear it for critical thinking.  If a sick six year old can do it, I think most of us can.

I remember years ago hearing about how some Christians and some Muslims were concerned that The Harry Potter series would trigger an interest among children in the occult.  They wanted the books removed from classrooms and libraries.  Not just so their own children wouldn't be exposed to them, but so all children would be shielded from their purported evil.

I wonder how many of those same Americans would become agitated over the idea of those in power removing their rights to bear arms so others would be kept from using guns for evil?  Liberty goes both ways, and I've noticed many of my conservative friends play the liberty card over their own issues, but they cry foul when our more liberal friends play it, and vice versa.  Books and guns: it's the same to me.  Liberty is liberty whether I like what it allows or not.  

As a nearly twenty-year veteran of the public library, I'm a huge proponent of intellectual freedom: the idea that people should be free to choose what materials they want to consume without someone making that decision for them.  Back when the big push to censor Harry Potter was first flaming, I read this wonderful op-ed piece by the incomparable Judy Blume, my childhood hero.  From fourth to sixth grade, my friends and I traded her books in a frenzy of bookworm fervor.  It was the first time I really began reading on my own.  The first non-picture books I read in their entirety that my teacher or my mother had not read to me.  I picked them.  They were mine.

Needless to say, Blume influenced my librarian ass big time.  Her complex books that spoke to children in a respectful, honest way about real life issues helped me understand that my thoughts and opinions about life are important.  That kind of confidence led me to know that no matter who tries to sway me, I am the ultimate judge of what I believe is right and wrong.  No one's going to trick me into believing something I know is wrong.

Here are the most important points in Blume's op-ed piece:

I’m not exactly unfamiliar with this line of thinking, having had various books of mine banned from schools over the last 20 years. In my books, it’s reality that’s seen as corrupting. With Harry Potter, the perceived danger is fantasy. After all, Harry and his classmates attend the celebrated Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. According to certain adults, these stories teach witchcraft, sorcery and satanism. But hey, if it’s not one “ism,” it’s another. I mean Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time has been targeted by censors for promoting New Ageism, and Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finnfor promoting racism. Gee, where does that leave the kids?

My husband and I like to reminisce about how, when we were 9, we read straight through L. Frank Baum’s Oz series, books filled with wizards and witches. And you know what those subversive tales taught us? That we loved to read! In those days I used to dream of flying. I may have been small and powerless in real life, but in my imagination I was able to soar.

Guess what?  Most kids know the difference between reality and imagination.  If they don't, maybe you'd like to watch, read, listen, or play together, and answer any questions your child might have about the material in the way you feel is best for your own child.  But I guess it's just easier to let censors do the parenting for you.

I love discussing movies, books, songs, and games with Katie.  Even the ones I don't like.  It's my favorite part of parenting, the endless conversation.